May 5, 2010

CANADA: Finding relief for the 'sandwich generation'

TORONTO, Ontario / The National Post / Home / Arts / May 5, 2010

Boomer Caregivers; With child and elderly parent duties, it's key to seek out help

By Martha Worboy, Canwest News Service

Joanne Hough, left, is part of a generation of baby boomers
who are taking care of both children and aging parents. 
Photograph by: Ashley Fraser, Canwest News Service

Joanne Hough moved her family to Ottawa from Manitoba 10 years ago to help care for her aging mother, who was experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer's. With four kids between the ages of 10 and 20 still living at home, Hough says dividing her caregiving roles wasn't easy but she has found ways to manage.

Hough, 46, is part of a growing demographic within the baby boomer cohort referred to as the "sandwich generation." While elderly people are benefiting from rising life expectancies, their children -- often parents themselves -- are "sandwiched" in the middle, caring for two generations. The obligation to act as a caregiver to both parents and children can exact both emotional and financial tolls.

Hough, who works at an office job three days a week, says a strong family support system --which includes two brothers in B.C. and a sister in Alberta -- has helped to ease the emotional strain she experiences as her mother's main support. The four siblings hold conference calls when major decisions need to be made about her living arrangements.

And her mother's stable financial situation has allowed Hough to move her into a long-term care facility and hire a caregiver to visit her regularly. Knowing her mother's daily basic needs are being met has given Hough peace of mind, especially when she's unable to visit herself.

"I don't know how I'd do it without [the service]," says Hough. "I try to plan ahead but it's comforting to know someone's there taking her for walks."

Not everyone in Hough's situation is so lucky.

According to a recent survey by Investors Group, 69% of Canadians aged 43 to 63 have at least one living parent or parent-in-law and about one-third of this group are providing care for their parents. Duties were found to range from financial support to everyday activities such as providing companionship, transportation to appointments and household chores. Roughly a third of these caregivers are parents themselves, the survey found, and in many cases their eldercare responsibilities cost them a portion of their incomes (some up to $6,000 per year).

Also see related report in The Montreal Gazette

While the obligations of a dual caregiver may seem daunting, there are ways to manage them so the responsibility doesn't become overwhelming, says Terri Benincasa, a personal transition coach who specializes in boomer issues.

"The part that tends to be the most draining is when you don't have the help you need," she says. "You're running around like a chicken with your head cut off because you haven't used your resources and your family."

For those who have adult children living at home, Benincasa suggests identifying ways they can help and even setting up a "contract" so there is an understanding of what their responsibilities are.

"Boomers want to take care of their kids but they have to say 'I know you're going through a hard time right now but I need your help caring for Grandma,' " says Benincasa.

She suggests looking into support from social services to help with eldercare, and advocates -- if financially feasible -- putting a dependent parent into a nursing home.

"It's overwhelming when you're trying to maintain mom and dad in their own home -- you're taking them to appointments, you're making sure they're eating, you're making sure their home is maintained," Benincasa says.

She says delegating duties to friends and family members and finding respite care is important so caregivers can have time for themselves.

"The better you plan and the more proactive you are, you will find you'll get a lot of relief that way," she says.

An important part of planning ahead is making sure certain legal documents are in order, according to Carol Abaya, founder of the website advises aging parents set up a continuing power of attorney to allow an adult child to make financial decisions on their behalf, as well as a personal care power of attorney for future medical decisions.

"Without them elderly people are setting their children up for major problems," Abaya says, pointing out that if an adult child caregiver has no continuing power of attorney they would be unable to pay parents' bills when they need to. [rc]

More information from:
> Caregivers Association of B.C.,
> Community Care Access Centre in Ontario
> Alberta Caregivers Association.

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